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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

First-Edition, Signed ‘Gatsby’|Was Stolen From Him, Man Says

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) - A book dealer is asking $750,000 for a signed first edition of "The Great Gatsby," which was stolen from a man's home, and whose character Tom Buchanan was "loosely modeled" on the man's father, the son claims in court.

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William M. Hitchcock sued James Robert Cahill Rare Books, and Quintessential Rare LLC dba AbeBooks.com dba James Cahill Publishing/Rare Books, in Federal Court.

Hitchcock, of Houston, claims the book is a family heirloom and that Cahill has no right to sell it.

Hitchcock seeks "to recover a unique and valuable boo, to wit, a first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic and critically acclaimed novel 'The Great Gatsby' autographed by the author and inscribed to Hitchcock's father, Thomas Hitchcock: 'For Tommy Hitchcock for keeps from his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald Los Angeles 1927."

Hitchcock says his father, who died fighting in World War II, "was the dominant American polo player of his generation. Fitzgerald loosely modeled the character of 'Tom Buchanan' in the novel 'The Great Gatsby' and the character of 'Tommy Barban' in ... 'Tender is the Night' on Thomas Hitchcock. Fitzgerald also autographed and inscribed a copy of 'Tender is the Night' to Thomas Hitchcock."

After Hitchcock's father died, the autographed copy of "Gatsby" passed to Hitchcock's mother, then to him when she died in 1997, the complaint states.

Hitchcock says he displayed the book in his house until 2005 or 2006, when "a person or persons unknown removed the book from Hitchcock's residence without his permission, authorization or knowledge."

He claims he realized the book was missing after he moved to a new house. Hitchcock says he looked for the book and talked to his friends about its disappearance, but never found it and "did not determine for certain that it was gone."

But in April 2012, Hitchcock says, a friend saw the book for sale on Cahill's website for $750,000.

Upon investigation, Hitchcock says, he found that Cahill had bought the book "at a Bonham's auction in Los Angeles in or about 2010 for about $61,000."

Hitchcock claims Cahill never bothered to find out who owned the book before he bought it. He claims Cahill did not receive "any documentation of the provenance or history of possession of the book or proof that it had left the possession of the Hitchcock family lawfully or with the Hitchcock family's consent."

Hitchcock says he filed an online crime report with the Houston Police Department on April 17. Then he had attorney Thomas Kline, with Andrews Kurth, send Cahill a letter demanding return of the book, to no avail.

When Cahill refused to cooperate, Hitchcock says, he "filled out a stolen art data sheet" with the FBI on April 26. He says the FBI investigated for almost a year, but closed its case in February this year without pressing charges.

Hitchcock then hired another lawyer and tried again to retrieve the book. He claims that on Feb. 28, attorney Terry Higham "contacted James Robert Cahill by email and telephone and renewed Hitchcock's demand for return of the book. Following the conversations occurring on March 1, 2013, Mr. Cahill again refused to return the book," the complaint states.

It continues: "During his telephone conversation with Higham, James Robert Cahill claimed that he had already transferred the book to a resident of the United Kingdom who intended to deface the book by cutting out the pages containing Fitzgerald's signature and inscription. Upon Higham's objection to the defacing of the book, Mr. Cahill indicated that he could prevent such defacement of the book, if he chose to do so."

Hitchcock says he is the rightful owner of the book, and he wants it back.

"Because the book, as inscribed to Hitchcock's father, is a unique work of literature of historical and personal significance, the harm to Hitchcock cannot be adequately remedied unless the book is returned to him, with damages for loss of use and enjoyment during the period of Cahill's detention of the book," the complaint states.

Hitchcock says he is afraid that Cahill or his alleged customer "will make good on Mr. Cahill's threat to deface the book by cutting out the pages containing F. Scott Fitzgerald's signature and the author's inscription to Hitchcock's father."

Hitchcock seeks a preliminary injunction preventing Cahill from selling or defacing the book, declaratory judgment that Hitchcock is the book's only rightful owner, wants Cahill ordered to return the book, and damages for replevin and conversion.

He is represented by Terry L. Higham with Barton, Klugman & Oetting of Los Angeles.

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